Guest Column | January 12, 2018

How Retailers Used Messaging To Gain An Advantage During The Holiday Shopping Season

By Stefanos Loukakos, Head of Messenger Business at Facebook

REx Messenger

Cyber Monday, 2017 was the largest online sales day in history with over $6.59 billion in sales; a 16.8 percent increase year-over-year. Thanksgiving and Black Friday brought in $5.03 billion and $2.87 billion in revenue respectively, while in-store sales dropped 1.6 percent despite the overall increase in consumer spending. And mobile continued its upward trend, with Cyber Monday revenue coming from smartphones seeing 39.2 percent year-over-year growth, a new all-time high.

But none of these insights are surprising; these trends have been predicted and proven for years. What has changed is the way people are using digital avenues to reach retailers and make purchases, especially as competition for eyeballs on web and mobile continues to accelerate.

One particular trend impacting retailers is the decline in new app downloads among consumers; the majority of smartphone users download no new apps a month, spending the lion's share of their time in just 10 top apps. Retailers can no longer rely on shoppers to download their apps; they have to reach them where they are already spending their time. And with more people using messaging apps to connect with the people and businesses they love, retailers are starting to integrate messaging into their mobile marketing strategy — even more so during the busy holiday season where standing out in the sea of discounts is critical.

For example, Saks Fifth Avenue launched its gift-guide experience for Messenger days before Black Friday to help shoppers figure out the best gift for their friends and loved ones. The bot asks shoppers several questions about the person they’re looking to buy for, including favorite drinks and vacation spots, and suggests relevant gifts from According to Caroline Klatt, CEO of Headliner Labs, the agency that built Saks' new messaging experience, the bot tracks conversions and clicks over time and will adjust its future gift suggestions based on what people have purchased or browsed. This is a great example of a brand capitalizing on holiday momentum to re-engage customers throughout the year in a way that is personalized and conversational.

Another gifting messaging experience launched for the holidays was jewelry designer David Yurman. Similar to Saks, the experience allows customers to shop gift guides using Messenger and select gifts for loved ones (or themselves!). Using the bot, shoppers can shop David Yurman gift guides by selecting a recipient type and can further filter through the gifts based on category, metals, and price range. Once they have selected a gift they can complete the purchase on the David Yurman website (though many retailers are already offering the ability to complete purchases within their messaging experience).

In addition to shopping, people can use the bot to locate nearby David Yurman stores and contact customer care specialists. During the busy holiday season when wait times are off the charts, offering the ability to connect with a support representative in Messenger is a great way for people to save time (and avoid listening to “Jingle Bell Rock” on loop while they wait for a representative) and an efficient way for businesses to effectively triage and manage inbound requests.

For retailers looking to use messaging as a support channel — be it during the holiday season or throughout the year — a hybrid approach that combines automation and human interactions has proven to be particularly successful, using automation for streamlining efficiencies and answering simple questions, with human agents stepping in for more nuanced requests. This can be done by creating automated flows for frequently asked questions such as , “What is your return policy?” or, “What are your store hours?”, with a clear escalation path to a human representative for more complex matters such as , “I was wondering if you are planning to restock the Egyptian cotton bedsheets in blush this season.” The handover protocol, launched last year, makes it easier than ever for retailers to offer both automated and live experiences — all within a single conversation.

Louis Vuitton also made a foray into messaging this holiday season with an experience of their own, enabling people to search for products within Messenger and receive suggestions on specific items. The bot uses natural language processing to facilitate a more advanced search experience. Like the David Yurman experience, it allows people to easily connect with an “advisor” should they wish, but another component of the experience is tips for product care.

People can browse the different Louis Vuitton lines and select the material that matches their merchandise — be it Monogram Canvas, Epi Leather, Monogram Vernis, or more. This is a powerful retention tactic, especially for a luxury brand like Louis Vuitton whose customers are invested in the brand — as well as maintaining their high value purchases over time.

These are just a few examples of retailers using messaging to effectively reach and re-engage their audience during the holiday season, but this is by no means a seasonal-only play. In fact, in 2017, retail was one of the top industries using Messenger to connect with their customers. With people spending exponentially more time on mobile than at the mall, retailers hoping to get ahead in 2018 must consider messaging as an integral part of their mobile marketing strategy.

Stefanos Loukakos, Head of Messenger Business at Facebook